Nov 13, 2023 - News

Former Capitol Hill Books owner Morton "Jim" Toole dies at 86

Capitol Hill Books longtime owner and employee Jim Toole among the shelves

Capitol Hill Books fixture Jim Toole. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Morton "Jim" Toole, the former longtime owner of Capitol Hill Books, passed away on Saturday. He was 86.

Why it matters: "The Admiral," as friends and family called him, was a beloved fixture at the Eastern Market-area bookshop, which he took ownership of in 1995 and where he worked until the day of his death.

What they're saying: "The force of his personality — we won't ever be able to fill his shoes," bookshop co-owner Kyle Burk tells Axios.

Flashback: Burk purchased the store from Toole in 2018, along with a small group of longtime employees and friends who've preserved the "fiercely independent" bookshop, which specializes in quality used, rare, and first-edition books.

  • "He loved interacting with folks and being a hub in the community," says Burk. "Everyone knew him and he knew everybody."

Zoom out: A retired U.S. Navy admiral, Toole was as fond of recounting great Marine battles as he was reciting poetry (a favorite: "Sea Fever" by John Masefield) and bantering with a group of young book lovers who'd come to work — or more, hang out with The Admiral — on Thursday evenings.

  • Even after selling the shop, Toole was a daily fixture amongst the shelves.
  • "He had a zest for interacting with people and for life," remembers Burk.

The bottom line: Just before his passing on Saturday, Toole attended Capitol Hill Books' monthly free wine and cheese party. "He was surrounded by friends hanging on his every word, like usual," says Burk.

  • "I was happy he got that last night. He would have wanted it that way."
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